What is a Social Work Practice?

SWP’s are social worker led organisations that are independent of the local authority and provide social work services for a specified group of people for whom they discharge the statutory duties and responsibilities of the local authority. SWP pilots were first launched in children’s services having surfaced in the Green Paper “Care Matters: Transforming the Lives of Children and Young People in Care”. The idea was a relatively simple one: there would be benefits for both looked-after children and for social workers if the latter were organised along the lines of professional partnerships, mirroring arrangements for legal and medical partnerships.

This idea evolved from the Government’s desire to improve the experiences and outcomes for people in vulnerable circumstances and empower social workers to do their jobs effectively, while reducing bureaucracy. It seeks to bring the people who access services and staff closer together. It complements the personalisation policy by assisting the shift of power and responsibility to citizens and away from social workers. The SWP pilots represent an opportunity to test the potential benefits of the SWP model and adopt an innovative approach to delivering services for adults and their carers.

North East Lincolnshire has been embracing major changes in how social work is to be delivered. Giving people control of their own resources and determining how their needs are met, the rise of personalisation and national policy initiatives all point to transformation in the role and organisation of social work with adults. North East Lincolnshire is at the forefront of delivering change that reflects people’s aspirations to be active citizens, to be in control of the services and support they need and to be deprived of their liberty only when there is no other option. The overall objective in North East Lincolnshire is to shift responsibility and power away from managers and social workers and towards citizens.

There has been much activity to deliver this programme of change. A workshop of staff from across the organisation has collectively agreed the most appropriate legal form for the SWP would be a Social Enterprise operating as a Community Interest Company (CIC) with a participating membership. The intention of the SWP is to be genuinely accountable to the community through establishing different categories of membership e.g. employees, community representatives, partners. This provides the facility to both secure areas of expertise for the organisation (e.g. business experience) perhaps as associate and affiliate members and to promote broader engagement and involvement of the community.

An innovative programme of organisational development has been undertaken which reflects a commitment to delivering high quality and efficient services that put service users and the community first. The programme promotes a model of practice that enables adult social work to become one of the strong foundations of personalisation in NEL, supported by a shift away from hierarchical line-management structures, strengthened communication channels and a reduction in bureaucracy.

This has involved investment in the development of self-managed teams, a staff Advisory Group with service users as members, ASC Service Meetings, a forward looking Communications Strategy, Locality and Advanced Care Practitioner development programmes, a SWP Competency Framework and the introduction of best practice models of induction, supervision, and appraisal. There has been
Investment and commitment to the recruitment and retention of staff, including fully supported social work degree sponsorship. Overall the programme has enabled social workers to have a renewed sense of connection with what they set out to do.

The programme has focused particularly on changing culture and behaviours, implementing a leadership programme, devolving responsibilities to social workers, and developing communities and social capital in ways which shift responsibility and power away from social workers and towards citizens.


Organisational development work has made engagement in decision-making more interactive, so that all staff actively contribute to the development of the SWP. Areas of activity have included:

Involving all staff in defining a shared vision and values
Building a sense of identity with the SWP through the social model of disability and branding
Identifying new roles and responsibilities within the SWP
Understanding the diversity of skills and talents that all staff can contribute through 360 degree appraisal and coaching
Developing an information Portal and providing updates on development activities
The programme has responded to a rapidly changing environment where constant learning, adaptation and innovation have been critical to the success of the SWP. It has been characterised by:

Defining clear goals and building a determination to reach them
Nurturing and valuing the contribution of all staff
Openness to the external environment
Harnessing the full knowledge and experience of all staff
Specific efforts have been made to develop the behaviour of social workers in leadership roles and to promote a change in culture so that honest dialogue is accepted as challenging and empowerment is a common concept where people are given real responsibility and use it to challenge seniors. The development of individuals has been facilitated by role modelling different behaviours that recognise the talents of individuals, support active citizenship and promote the participation of communities in local activity and decision-making, for example being positive, solution focused, non-directive, constructively challenging and reflective to enhance necessary learning.

Key to development into a SWP has been the creation of a modern and robust Communications Strategy to engage effectively with both internal and external stakeholders, specifically staff and services users. A particular emphasis has been on the type of information to be cascaded, as well as via what medium and when. In parallel with a new ASC Portal, SWP e-shot and blogs there have been regular focus groups, ASC Service and Advisory Group meetings, which all influence and shape the development of the SWP through active input to the Transitional Leadership Group.


The organisational development programme sees social work and its values as important in shaping the responses of the entire workforce in the SWP. It is intended that social workers will have a leadership role in influencing the behaviours of all staff and services in the SWP from the first contact with users,
ensuring they are listening, empowering individuals, being alert to conflict, safeguarding needs and the capacity of individuals, being sensitive to diversity and putting people in control.. The SWP will also see
front line staff being more involved in day to day decision-making. This involves a planned approach to developing self-managed teams (SMT’s).

The intention is that the SWP will involve everyone assuming a set of new roles and responsibilities, redistributing many of those that have previously been the exclusive preserve of managers and supervisors. The leadership role in the self-managed teams will be very different from that of a team leader in a traditional hierarchical team where the team leader allocates work. In the self-managed teams, the leadership role will involve taking on more of a supporting role, which will include identifying the long-term career and personal development needs of the team within the context of the SWP.

Individual team members will have the opportunity to use their skills and experience outside their specified remit (or job title) within the SWP. Since team roles within the SMT’s will be much more fluid than in hierarchical teams, team members will have increased discretion over their work. The aspiration is that this will lead to greater motivation and improved performance. Team members will also have greater freedom to complement each other’s skills.


The SWP is committed to placing the social model of disability at the centre of practice. This is expected to embed a respect for the expertise and experience of service users, in parallel with the building of capacity at both an individual and community level to challenge disabling barriers. The SWP will be based on a ‘whole-systems approach’ to capacity building, moving away from a deficit model to a more participative model and involving a collaborative approach over the long term. To be effective this requires a transfer both of resources and of responsibility.

A Community Neighbours pilot is underway in the East Marsh area developing local community hubs to provide residents with support and access to a wide range of low level local services so reducing demand on expensive statutory services. The emphasis is on a ‘bottom-up’ approach, with local people and organisations defining their priorities for local services.

This “building of community capacity”, which extends to marginalised individuals and groups, is focused on developing the abilities of local people to organise themselves so that they have more influence and involvement in the development of the SWP and ASC outcomes. The aim is for local people to better define and achieve their objectives and take an active and equal role in partnership with the SWP and other agencies. This will lead to an improved ability on the part of individuals, voluntary and community groups and communities to access resources and develop new activities, and should also lead to changes in the practice of the SWP and other statutory organisations.

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Focus independent adult social work C.I.C.
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